As we begin to contemplate the demise of the Probation Service as we know and love it, now seems as good a time as any to reflect on the past a little. Some of you will be aware that I'm prone to do that anyway and the following piece by a brand new blogger on the Safer Lives blog made me chuckle:-
"If you haven't seen Jim Brown's 'On Probation' blog yet, do so. The link is here and it's an excellent critique of the grumpiness involved in becoming 'practice wise'. Jim is from the 'old school', and I'm guessing that even by his own admission he's probably not the most innovative of Probation Officers. He relies on what he knows is effective and does not 'innovate' because he already knows what works with people. In new money we might call Jim's wisdom 'pro-social modeling', 'motivational interviewing' or even a 'desistance strategy'. In Jim's old shillings and pence we call this wisdom 'building a relationship' with clients (although he would undoubtedly argue that his methods are a great deal more nuanced and strategic than that). It's just that these days we've had to get scientific in explaining why and how it works."
Spot on I'd say and indeed I haven't been one to get too scientific about things over the years. Which I think makes a nice link to Professor Paul Senior and his introduction to the latest edition of the British Journal of Community Justice which is celebrating 10 years and which he jointly edits. Happily I notice that the full edition is available for free download for the next six weeks.
Prof Senior's editorial is handily entitled 'A Decade of Reflection' and the following should give a flavour :-
"Any review of the last 10 years would have to note that probation itself was not entirely lacking in responsibility for what happened to it when the National Probation Service was created in 2001. The loss of the voice of probation in the demise of ACOP, the simultaneous retirement of 50% of its leadership, the increasing difficulty the trade union at NAPO faced in remaining at the decision-making table, and the willingness of the new probation leadership to passively accept a series of managerialist and target-driven outputs left it vulnerable to attack. Practitioners became more office-bound and struggled to maintain their historic connections with local communities. The centre usurped the bottom-up developments of 'what works' to impose a programme of CBT delivery which was ill-conceived in its scope and execution, and threw the champagne out with the cork in allowing some of the traditional essence of probation - case management, relationships, continuity of care, pro-social modelling - to be lost in the pursuit of bureaucratic targets such as breach statistics, risk assessment completions and programme completions. This distorted organisational priorities, as all target-driven reforms have a tendency to do (and Payment by Results is no less a target-based mechanism with all the likelihood of 'gaming the system') and most disturbingly threatened the very essence of what probation is about. It is therefore somewhat surprising, though gratifying, that the resilience of probation practitioners has remained and its voice has been re-kindled to articulate a coherent, evidence-based and robust defence of probation against the precepts suggested in the government paper 'Transforming Rehabilitation'. NAPO has continued, often as a lone voice, throughout the decade with a robust media presence which has produced challenging and thought-provoking analyses of practice. The setting up of the Probation Chiefs Association (PCA) and its work alongside the Probation Association (PA) has begun to produce a more coherent and robust defence of probation, though whether it is too little too late, only the outcomes emerging from government in May 2013 on the future arrangements for the delivery of community sentences will ultimately answer that question. The promotion of a probation register and Probation Institute by the PCA may act to defend probation as an occupation and we will watch this development with interest."
As we head into the omnishambles being proposed by government, the absence of a leader and champion for the Probation Service becomes ever apparent. It prompted one reader to recall the days when figures such as Sir Graham Smith, a former chief of the Inner London Service and HMI could speak authoritatively on our behalf and one cannot but feel he must be spinning in his grave at what is currently being proposed. I found this very fulsome obituary from the Guardian and I quote from it:-